Doing SEO the right way can take hundreds of hours. It depends on what you’re looking to optimize, how much work you have to do, and more.
Content creation is often the lion’s share of SEO hours. You can spend hours discovering keywords and then creating topics from them. Then you have to actually create the content to go with them.
Since keywords inform content, it’s little wonder people spend so much time on keyword research. The right keywords could be the difference between Google’s top spot and getting lost on Page 2.
Of course, the other side of it is that finding the right keywords or good keywords can be difficult. There are many factors that must be weighed to determine whether a keyword is worth trying to rank for or not.
It’s not surprising people sometimes make poor choices about which keywords to invest in, even after careful research. If you’re not sure your research efforts are paying off, take a look at these 11 tips. With them, you can supercharge your research and find better keywords.
1. Know Your Audience
The very first step of keyword research isn’t writing down words you think your customers associate with your brand. It’s not even looking up search terms.
The foundation of all good keyword research is knowing your audience. What are they looking for? What do they want to know?
All too often, SEO experts get caught up in writing for robots. As search engines have shifted to semantic search, though, the focus has moved back to human users.
In short, Google thinks more about what a user means than what they actually type into the search bar. This is known as intent-based search. With Google’s BERT update and natural language processing, intent-based search is even more important.
Does that mean keywords are on their way out? Not yet. Keywords are still important since they tell Google what your content is about.
From there, the search engine can match your keywords to the user’s intent. That’s why it’s so important to know your audience. With a better understanding of what they want, you can align your content to serve those needs.
2. Let Google Make Suggestions for Keyword Research
Knowing your audience is a great first step, but it leaves you at a bit of a loss when it comes to finding keywords. You can start with generalized terms, such as “shoes” or “pizza.” If you sell shoes, then chances are your users will associate that term with you.
That’s great to know, but “shoes” and “pizza” aren’t great terms to try and rank for. How can you get from these “fat-head” keywords to the terms your audience is actually searching for?
One way is to let Google make some suggestions for you. Google Suggest will auto-fill search terms based on past searches and common questions. Start typing your question or keyword, and let Google do the rest.
Remember that Google Suggest doesn’t tell you much about how competitive a keyword is or search volume. You’ll still need to do the research to make sure the terms it offers are actually good keywords for you to use. That said, it can be a great place to start generating ideas.
3. Survey Says!
If you’re not sure what your audience is looking for, you could ask Google to make suggestions. There’s actually a much better source: your audience.
This is a key tip for how to research keywords that actually matters to your audience. By asking them what they want to know or what they’re looking for, you get better insights into both content and the search terms they’re likely to use.
Surveys are simple to conduct. Ask customers to fill out a quick poll on social media or email them a link. A pop-up on your website can also work.
There are extra steps after this. You’ll still need to verify search volume and weigh the competitiveness of any keyword. Once you’ve completed these tasks, though, you’ll have a solid direction for your content strategy.
4. Leverage on-Site Questions
Another way to find relevant keywords is to leverage data from your own site. If you allow people to conduct searches, then you can mine that data.
This will let you see what people are asking when they use your site. You can then take these terms and evaluate them as search terms. Other data, such as what they look at, can also help you design content around terms people are searching for.
5. Learn from Your Competitors
It’s very rare that you’ll be the only company offering certain services or products. Even if you focus your SEO efforts on local search, you may find you still have several competitors.
This isn’t all bad. You can use your competitors to inform your keyword research.
One easy way to check in on your competitors is to use Google’s Keyword Planner. You can drop a URL into the “Your Landing Page” bar, then click “get ideas.” The tool will offer you some insight into which keywords people use to arrive at the site.
The tool can give you information about search volumes for any particular keyword. It can also be helpful to plan topic themes or groups of ideas.
Other tools offer more robust information about your competitors. You may be able to compare your ranking and theirs on a particular keyword. Once you have this information, you can analyze their on-site and off-site SEO to rank higher for these and similar keywords.
6. Add Negative Keywords to the Mix
The next tip in this keyword research guide is one people often forget. They focus so much on the words they want to rank for that they forget all about the words they don’t want to rank for.
Negative keywords can help you narrow the field more. Suppose you sell running shoes, but not hiking shoes or dress shoes. In this case, it would make sense to add “dress” and “hiking” to your negative keywords list.
Negative keywords are more important for your ad campaigns than for content creation. Adding them to a keyword planner can help you direct your strategy though. Being aware of the words you don’t want to rank for is sometimes as important as being aware of those you do want to rank for.
7. Invest in Specialized Keyword Research Tools
If you want to get a job done, then having the right tools at your disposal is crucial. This is true of keyword research as much as anything else in life.
So, what tools do you need?
Google offers a host of free tools that you can use to inform your research. Keyword Planner and Google Suggest are just two of them.
There are many other tools out there. You may be using a keyword research tool or SEO platform already. If you’ve partnered with an agency, they likely have access to a host of tools they can use to conduct better keyword research.
There are some specialized tools you may want to check into. An SEO toolbar could help you identify keywords on competitor websites or elsewhere. There are services that can help you identify related searches.
There are even generators to help you create bulk lists of keywords in one go. Many of these tools are free to use. Check them out and discover how they can help you power better research for keywords.
8. Timing is Everything
Trendsetters aren’t just in the fashion world anymore. Keywords also follow trends. Some keywords gain popularity over time, while others fade.
When a news story breaks, a certain topic will trend. More people will search for related information. Many brands and publishers want to get in on the action.
It may seem difficult to follow trends, especially for these sorts of “flash-in-the-pan” topics. The good news is many keywords actually have much longer trends. If a keyword isn’t getting much traffic right now, it may not make sense to try and rank for it just yet.
That may change over time. Take a look at the historical trend for the term. If search volume has been on a steady rise, then it may make sense to create some content to address this keyword.
As search volume continues to increase, you can add more content. Better yet, you may even beat your competitors to the punch.
Following trends is also important when looking at keywords that are on their way out. As industries change and evolve, so does the terminology around them. That, in turn, influences the things people are searching for.
If there’s a keyword that your competitors are ranking for, it’s a good idea to see how volume is trending before you try to steal their crown. If volume is still on the uptick, then competing for this keyword makes perfect sense. If the search volume is trending down, then you may want to skip it and look to rank for the next hot term in your industry.
What Goes Around, Comes Around
You should also keep seasonality in mind. Some search terms experience ups and downs throughout the year. An example is “Halloween décor.” Most people aren’t looking for Halloween decorations in April.
While search volume for these terms is variable throughout the year, it makes sense to compete for them. Having content for seasonal terms can help you rank and boosts your SEO strategy.
9. Don’t Forget Branding
Most people don’t search for brands themselves. If they’re looking for pizza, they’re more likely to search “pizza near me” or “best pizza places in NYC” than to seek out a specific brand.
There are always exceptions, of course. Branded searches do happen, and you want to be sure you’re capitalizing on them. For example, shoe giant Nike probably wants to rank for “Nike running shoes.”
Even smaller brands can benefit from ranking for branded search. Instead of trying to build search around your terms, though, use search queries to build your brand.
If you happen to “invent” an industry term or find a way to capitalize on it, this can help you dominate the rankings. “Inbound marketing” is the classic example.
You can also try affinity searches, category searches, and discovering interested audiences.
10. Go for the Longtail
The way people search has been changing. With the advent of voice assistants, people are now asking grammatically correct questions.
That means you need to adjust your keyword strategy. Longtail keywords are specific phrases or even complete questions that are entered into the search engine.
These keywords can be specific. As a result, they don’t have nearly the same search volume as “fat-head” keywords like “pizza” or “shoes.”
The competition for them is also a lot less intense. You actually stand a chance at ranking. What’s more, is that these more targeted searches are usually conducted by people looking for answers.
They’re going to spend longer on your site, and they may even check out more posts. In turn, you’re already hard at work building a relationship with them. That’s much better than competing for the top spot for “pizza.”
11. Evaluate Keywords
Finally, you must remember to evaluate any keywords. Surveying your audience, checking on-site searches, and using Google Suggest are great ways to get ideas.
You need to make sure those ideas have legs. Knowing searching volume and competitiveness are key.
Don’t forget to look at the difficulty rankings either. Be sure to dive deeper into competitiveness and difficulty, as these metrics are often averages. There may be less competition than you think.
By conducting this kind of analysis, you can balance search volume against difficulty to find a “sweet spot” for your keywords.
The Key to Better SEO
Keyword research doesn’t need to be difficult, and these 11 tips can help you find better keywords for your business.
If you still have questions about keyword research or any other part of SEO, it might be time to team up. Get in touch with the experts and discover what a difference an agency partner can make.